What relevance do such corporate terms as “customer acquisition cost”, “customer retention metrics”, or “prospect target profile” have for the non-profit world? Too often the answer that my nonprofit clients or prospects give me is “none”, as they want to believe that morality and social vision reside on their side, while corporate values are uniformly lacking To them, the vocabulary of corporate marketing is either irrelevant or inappropriate. They make a sad mistake.

Wikopedia offers us this definition of “marketing”:

Marketing is the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling that product or service. . . . a set of processes for creating, delivering and communicating value to customers. . .

Marketing is the science of choosing target markets through market analysis and market segmentation, as well as understanding consumer behavior and providing superior customer value.

From a societal point of view, marketing is the link between a society’s material requirements and its economic patterns of response. Marketing satisfies these needs and wants through exchange processes and building long term relationships.”

Of course the social service agency, theatre company, or environmental organization are not offering us gift wrapped products. They may provide food and social support to the needy, artistic performance that nourish our soul, protection of our land and water – services that do add value to our lives as individuals and as a society. Their products are services such as this; their “customers” are those of us who might support the endeavor beyond the level of our immediate individual need.

Communicating the value” for a non-profit takes place as they explain how their service benefits a segment of society – which may or may not be the segment that is being asked to contribute funds that support it.

Creating, delivering, and communicating value to customers” is the direct work that they do.

And the “market analysis and segmentation” that non-profits may or may not do is the analysis of who might support the program, how it needs to be packaged and described so that its value is most clearly broadcast, and which sub-communities might best be approached to take on each piece of work.

Marketing has always been a mixture of art and science, but the analytic tools to identify interested communities, and to explore how they respond to different approaches have been steadily growing in power and precision. It’s high time for a new community of non-profit leaders to begin using these technologies, and the related social understanding, to develop a stronger network of support.

But the gap between for-profit and non-profit sectors is about more than different notions of whether both really do “marketing”. There’s too often a cultural divide, based on an implied criticism of corporate organizations as being immoral and out of touch with human values. That’s certainly true of some, but there’s a significant community of for-profit groups that are wholesome in every way. There are also plenty of people within the corporate world who are not comfortable with all aspects of their employer’s behavior, but are challenged how best to confront it with a modicum of safety.

We need more programs like United Way’s “shared corporate executive” program that brings skilled executives into their non-profit to share specific organizational and technical skills. These executives can then return to their employer with a new confidence about how any corporate organization can adopt strong values, and can become an affirming community in which differences are an opportunity.

Once the stereotypes have begun to fade, we may all be better able to look at the tools of marketing as tools of helpful social intervention, via which useful products and services get defined, designed, and funded . . . and the world becomes a better place.

That’s right.  This whole blog is a marketing tool.   That’s not to say it’s not interesting, perhaps engaging, accurate, or useful to most of you who are not my clients.  But it’s also an exercise in relationship marketing.

While you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve been developing a relationship with me.  And if you’ve taken the initiative to add comments, you’ve helped me learn about you.  I hope — and do believe — that our relationship of one of trust and respect.

Now … what if  you need a consultant to help with questions of strategy or organization in your business?  What if you’re concerned about maintaining your organization’s values in this age of increasing automation and mechanization?  You may feel that your computer systems or web sites are confusing, hard to use.  Or perhaps you feel that some “coaching” or “clarifying” would help you work more effectively, overcome a creative block, or break through some other barrier.  Most of us don’t go to the yellow pages, or its internet successor, Google, to find help in these times.  We look to our established relationships, and set them in a more structured business model.

In this relationship marketing strategy, I’m trying to build connections that will result in a few business relationships.  I say “few” not to be self-defeating, but because I’m realistic.  In marketing terms you’re not all “qualified” prospects, who can gain value from my services and skills.  But some of you can.  (Talk to me, please.)

Some of you may stand back, observe this scene, and notice how such relationship marketing can work for you.  People talk about “social networking” as if it’s a technology.  But, as our local social marketing consultant Fred Abaroa (Costa Vida Fred) has proclaimed, “If you want to use social marketing, you have to be social!”.  Treat this blog, and all the electronic and soft personal communication that can surround it, as a potential salon for sharing, listening, and finding who and what can add value to your life and your business.

The advertisement is not over.  Keep reading!

“The best time to win customer loyalty is when you make a mistake.”   I heard this from an IBM customer service representative who was speaking at a conference, and one of the best examples of this principle that I can cite is from IBM itself:

My IBM Thinkpad laptop would turn off intermittently.  I sent it in for warranty repair, and it was returned promptly . . . but after a short while I saw that the problem was still there.  I was leaving for Europe in a few days, and needed to take a reliable laptop with me.

I explained the situation to the IBM service rep on the phone, and she offered free expedited service — that should get my laptop back in time.  But I told her I was very nervous — really wanting to have it fixed locally and promptly.  She wasn’t sure what she could do, but offered to look for options.  A few hours later she called back to say that an IBM technician would be on a boat the next day,  coming to the island where I lived and worked. He was in a different division, she told me, but would be prepared to deal with my problem.

Sure enough he arrived the next morning, put his anti-static mat on our kitchen table, opened up the laptop, exclaimed that there was a loose ground wire causing our problem, fixed it, and left.  The problem was solved, and the customer was very happy.

The IBM speaker identified two costs in any customer service transaction — and particularly in one where the company made a mistake:

  1. The transaction cost.  In this case, IBM paid for several hours of a technician’s time — to accomplish a repair that could have been done more economically in their central repair depot.  That might have been a cost of several hundred dollars in this case.
  2. The opportunity cost.  I’ve never bought anything but an IBM laptop since, and whenever clients or friends have asked for my recommendation, I always tell them this story.  IBM has probably received tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sales as a result of this initiative.

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